Covid-19: More Than Seven Million Children in Afghanistan at Risk of Hunger As Food Prices Soar Due To Lockdown

Saturday May 02, 2020
Kabul (BNA) At a time when Afghan children need adequate daily nutrition to help strengthen their immune systems, the price of basic foods is rising under the lockdown, making it harder for families to feed themselves.
A third of the population – including 7.3 million children – will face food shortages in April and May due to the current pandemic[i].
Just in the past month, the price of wheat flour and cooking oil in Afghanistan’s main city markets have increased by up to 23 percent as supply is unable to meet demand, while the cost of rice, sugar and pulses have increased by between 7 and 12 percent, according to the World Food Program.
While food prices are increasing, the financial ability of daily wage laborers to buy food is decreasing, as casual work dries up because of nationwide restrictions. A large portion of the Afghan workforce relies on the informal sector, with no safety nets when work is scarce.
Even before the global COVID-19 crisis, the total number of children who needed some form of humanitarian support this year stood at 5.26 million[ii], making war-torn Afghanistan one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a child.
The most recent nutrition surveys in Afghanistan show that an estimated two million children under five will suffer from the most life-threatening form of extreme hunger annually  [iii]. The effects of the lockdown coupled with one of the weakest health systems in the world – Afghanistan has just 0.3 doctors per 1,000 people – means malnourished and sick children are much less likely to get the life-saving treatment they need to survive.
13-year-old Mustafa* lives in Sari Pul province in northern Afghanistan with his four siblings and mother. Mustafa* goes to school and works in a local food shop to supplement the family income. But since the lockdown, he is at home, unable to go to school nor earn any money to help put food on the table. Save the Children has provided the family with a cash transfer so Mustafa* no longer needs to work.
13-year-old Mustafa* said:
“We don’t have any food at home. From three meals a day we are down to two and sometimes just one. My mother is trying to find food for us, she is weaving carpets to sell but everywhere is closed right now. She can only make us tea with dry bread. My other siblings sometimes ask for good food, but my mother can’t afford to feed us. It’s hard to be alive.”
Timothy Bishop, Save the Children’s Country Director in Afghanistan, said:
“We are deeply concerned that this pandemic will lead to a perfect storm of hunger, disease and death in Afghanistan unless the world takes action now to ensure vulnerable children and their families have enough to eat, especially those in remote areas and the urban poor.
“The uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 means many families are stressed about putting food on the table, with no clear indication of how long the current crisis will go on. Meanwhile children who miss out on their daily nutritional needs are at far greater risk of getting sick. In extreme cases the lack of food may even affect a child’s physical and mental development, with devastating consequences for the rest of their lives.
“For many Afghans the biggest impact of the pandemic will not be the virus itself, but the hunger caused by lockdown measures and a breakdown in supply lines. We are facing the very real risk that children could die from starvation. What we need is for the international community to urgently fly in food supplies to be distributed to some of the most vulnerable communities in the country, including children, pregnant women, the elderly, malnourished, and those who are sick. We also urge the Afghan government to facilitate the rapid distribution of food, despite the nationwide lockdown.
“Afghan children have suffered enough. Most have known nothing but conflict in their lives. We cannot allow COVID-19 to further rob them of their futures.”

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